Monday, October 1, 2012

This blog has moved

This blog has moved, as of October 1, 2012, to a new address:

Thus I leave blogspot  and join wordpress. What this means for my regular readers is that you can now subscribe and get my latest post by email if you choose.

Archives for February 2011–September 2012 will remain at this site.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A 50th high school reunion

I was the editor of this gaudy yearbook. The reunion committee provided ID badges of our former selves.
Last weekend my high school class of 1962 had a reunion. Fifty years is real time.

I had attended our 35- and 45-year reunions so people’s appearance was no shocker. It is a bit disconcerting to see such familiar faces wearing the disguise of age. But after a weekend with my peer group I look at my present face with more respect and affection. I see in myself, like I saw in them, the gem of who I used to be and still am, the spark of my essential self. Some of the women, like me, look like our mothers but with good haircuts.
Melba and Janis, looking like their mothers only better.
 The reunion committee had asked us for updates and reflections on our lives and published these in a booklet. I was impressed by the breadth and depth of the lives people have lived. Travel, family, achievement, service blended with a remarkable integrity. My classmates have been true to themselves and to their faith. They have served the world at large and the communities where they have been planted or the one they never left. They have become beloved parents and grandparents.

What is even more remarkable, though, is that this high school class of mine still felt like a community, a group of people united by affection and common experience despite our differences. We pulled together as a high school class, though each of us played a unique role. This exercise in building community is one of this small parochial school’s great gifts to my life.
Faye Mosemann was the one who pulled me into the community-building exercise when she greeted me practically on the doorstep that first day of freshman year. I soon learned that Faye was the daughter of the pastor of the largest Mennonite church in the area, the one associated with the local college. I was the shy daughter of a farmer. And I soon learned that this didn’t matter. Faye and I became best friends.

I can’t say exactly how this class came to feel like a community and still does, after all these years. I don’t think there is any good theory of community building; you just have to do it. Music was important in our community. Faye and I and four girls quickly formed a singing group and most of the class eventually joined one chorus or another. Singing and shared classes blurred the boundaries of the cliques that high school students always form. We were a group of 50–60, a good size for community building.
Wayne and Eileen
  We also came together with a hunger to learn, a sense of being in momentous times, which was cultivated by some really great teachers. John F. Kennedy was elected president in our junior year. Faye reminded me last weekend that she came to my house to watch the returns on television—because her stricter Mennonite parents didn’t have TV—and we stayed up all night. I suspected that my parents had voted for Richard Nixon if they had voted at all. They considered their voting a very private matter.

The historian Leonard Gross, who went on to become curator of the Mennonite Church’s archives, taught for a few years at Bethany. He lectured us college style, made little Anabaptists out of us by teaching us about our origins, and made us pay attention to the news. Leonard introduced me to the life of the mind and I never left it. Delmar Miller and Rosemary Wyse introduced me to great literature and great writing. Latin became my second language because it was the only foreign language available when I was a freshman and C.J. Holloway was available to teach it. It was an invaluable foundation for learning more languages. When Leonard came to the school I took German from him and I began learning French with private lessons from his Swiss wife, Irene.

Leonard, Rosemary, Bible instructor Royal Bauer, and John Ingold, who taught me to drive on a stick shift (a lifelong gift), were at our reunion, beaming with pride and affection and looking great. How did I miss photographing them? I was caught up in the emotion of the moment, feeling a little self-conscious and high-schoolish, wondering if I lived up to their expectations.

All of our teachers were great human beings as well as good teachers. We were surrounded by good people who brought out as much good as possible in fickle teenagers. We were sheltered, protected from many of the social and societal pressures that assail adolescents. It was a stifling environment for some, no doubt, but I thrived in it.

I told my classmates on Sunday that Bethany Christian High School had spoiled me for living any kind of life but one that carried meaning and one that built community. It was a good way, I think, to be spoiled.

For more reunion photos go here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Consider the asters

Retirement has finally hit. For the first time since I retired at the end of June I find myself with more time and energy than things to do. This simply means that I have to reshape my life around different goals and practices and I have to do it all by myself. There are no assignments or requirements and few obligations.

If this sounds like paradise to you, think again. It’s fine for a day or two, but the rest of my life? What was I thinking?? Well, I was thinking that I knew what I did not want to continue doing even though I wasn’t sure how I would fill the gap in my life that would open by quitting that great-part-time-job-for-a-good-cause. Now I have some sense of new directions but have not quite gathered the momentum or the certainty to propel myself in any direction. I am in a liminal period. I have been here often before. I know the drill for times like these: pay attention to the here and now.

Fortunately, this liminal time opens up in my favorite season of the year. A weird hot spring and summer have morphed into a gorgeous fall. I have been taking daily walks down the road to Dayton Wet Prairie a former Nature Conservancy site just a mile away, recently acquired by a local conservation group. Wet blooming prairies are relatively rare so we’re fortunate to have this one so close.

Most of the year Dayton Wet Prairie is just a drab, swampy mess. There are a few spring flowers, but the woods around our house have a much showier array in April and May. However, in late August the prairie begins to put on a real show. The summer Joe Pye weed and wild sunflowers are joined by the goldenrods. 

Then, as the rosy Joe Pye weed fades into September, the asters begin to bloom. Purple, lavender, and white among the brilliant goldenrod.

This seems to be a good year for wild asters. A bouquet of white ones greets us at the end of our driveway. I have never seen them before. 

But then, I have never paid attention to the wild asters like I am doing now. This is a between time for me. I don’t know where I am going. I have no assignments, no big projects lined up. Instead, I watch the prairie become beautiful.

I am taking no thought for the morrow. I am considering the asters, how they grow.

For more Dayton Prairie photos go here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feeling fat in Japan

I just had my Medicare annual physical. This is not like the physicals I remember in the past. It happens fully clothed. The Medicare physical requires (pays) the doctor to cover certain territory, mostly by questions. How much exercise do you get, how much sleep, do you want a flu shot, do you want a pneumonia vaccination (it won’t prevent you from getting pneumonia but it may prevent complications). Look in the ears, open the mouth and say ah, lie down so the tummy can be probed a bit, and that’s it. Blood is drawn for certain diagnostics.

One of the requirements is the weight discussion. My BMI is 29, which puts me in the overweight category, uncomfortably close to obese, which starts at 30. I could tell the doctor was not eager to have a long talk with me about weight, however, because he sees so many patients in worse shape. Yeah, yeah, he said, it’s really hard for all of us.

I live in Michigan and my doctor is in Indiana. Both states are in the top 10 for obesity rates. You can tell this just by looking around you at restaurants, stores, even the YMCA. Michigan is number 5 in the nation, with 31.3% of the population in the obese category. Indiana is tied with South Carolina for number 8, with 30.8%. Studies show that your weight is influenced by your community, the people with whom you associate.

I often think of this. Six years ago, when I was 20 pounds lighter than I was last week, I visited Japan and felt fat. The Japanese are prone to make frank remarks on certain topics that we shun, such as weight and annual income. One driver wondered whether my traveling companion and I could wedge into the backseat of a car that was “not built for Americans, who are fatter than Japanese.” No offense intended but offense taken nonetheless.

It may seem silly, but I would really think twice about going back to Japan for this very reason. Or to France and other parts of Europe. Not that I am inclined to travel to these parts of the world these days. It is just a mental game I play with myself.  Could I ever get thin enough to feel comfortable in a Parisian cafĂ©? Or would I immediately be spotted as a fat American?

Maybe I should spend time with relatives in Oregon and Vermont, which are numbers 1 and 2 for fitness in the USA. Maybe it would rub off on me.

I am writing this on the third day of a juice fast. My intention is to get a jumpstart on losing . . . I won’t even say how much. Just some of those 20 pounds I’ve put on in the past 6 years. Get just a little more comfortably below the obesity index, just a little closer to a global normal, not a Michiana normal. And to do it while I can still see my toes.

It is hard. The fruit-veggie juice fast is working. I’ve lost four pounds in three days. On this third day the hunger pangs are mostly gone. I feel alert and energetic, not as headachy and grouchy as the first two days. It is kind of neat to get to the edge of tolerance and then feel revived by a large glass of juice that goes straight to the veins. But I am bored. I would like some real food pretty soon. This may be a three-day fast.

However long the fast, it is only a start. My eating habits were pretty good but not good enough. I must apparently eat even less and exercise even more than I used to. That no-burp diet that I wrote about some time ago is good but it’s not enough. I have to eat teenyweeny portions like a Frenchwoman or absolutely no fat like a Japanese.

The juice fast is a reboot. When I start eating again it will be very, very carefully, savoring every delicious bite.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Juicing up a new practice

our new Omega juicer

While I was in Congo in July, my husband bought a juicer. This was not just any juicer; it represented the latest technology and was rather pricey, a real boy toy.

Vic has been reading for a while about the benefits of juicing for weight control and health and he has sporadically tried to interest me in it. But I am a cook. I like the taste of good food. I like to prepare and serve meals. Juicing represented an entirely different approach to food, a new practice that would require some investment of time and money. I wasn’t interested.

But now the juicer was sitting on the countertop. The money had been spent and, as Vic demonstrated, this model worked easily and cleaned up in a whiz. He showed me a sheaf of recipes and said that while I was away he had gone on a juice fast over a weekend, lost five pounds, and kept them off at least until that moment. He made some of his mean green juice: kale, cucumber, green apples, pear, lemon, ginger.

I took a sip and became a believer. It tasted a little grassy but it was good. I could see drinking it for pleasure as well as health. This had the quality I required of food: I have to like it. (Some of Vic’s previous health food purchases did not meet that requirement.) This is also a requirement of any new practice: it must bring some immediate enjoyment. I need early rewards to keep me going until longer-term benefits kick in.

Still, the juicer languished on our countertop for a few weeks, mostly unused. Now that I was back in the kitchen Vic was happily eating my meals and wasn’t volunteering to exercise his new juicing expertise.

And then last week, while he was away for a few days, I watched the documentary that had inspired him to buy the juicer: Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. The adjectives do not apply to us and I didn’t necessarily believe all the claims but it added another quality I need in order to adopt a new practice: desire. I have to want to do it. It must not be a “should” or carry any hint of self-punishment. I really wanted to try regular juicing after watching that movie. I suppose it was no coincidence that I watched it after eating nothing but pizza and popcorn for nearly two days. I was 100 percent ready to try something new.

A third element I need to start a new practice is creativity. I have to be able to make it my own.

Where food is concerned I am not a recipe follower. Instead I apply principles I find in recipes, and my own taste, to preparing what is in season or on hand. So for the last few days I have been playing creatively with the juicer. By experimenting I quickly learned three principles of juicing:

1.     Put fruit like apples or pears in every mix. Along with carrots, beets, and certain other vegetables, they add sweetness to the grassier greens.

2.     Add half a peeled lemon and a small chunk of fresh ginger to every mix. These wake up the best flavors of almost anything.

3.     Taste before you finish and add what’s missing or what you think it could tolerate.

Last night I made a watermelon-carrot juice that was pretty as well as yummy. I hated to mess up the color so added just one large leaf of Chinese cabbage for the green.

The juice was my supper last night and my breakfast this morning. I am thinking of substituting juice for one meal a day. Or maybe going on a 3-day juice cleanse. Or maybe a 10-day one, depending on how I feel.

That’s another requirement for a new practice. I have to be able to take it a step at a time.

I just made this pretty green juice and decided to have it for lunch.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cutting into the cloth

Congo Cloth Connection's centennial banner

I dream of a crowded restaurant bathroom. It’s where all the action is taking place though I am one of a group about to board a plane for a very important trip.  A group of women is chattering and laughing. I see intriguing group dynamics and I compliment the leader of the group, telling her she is like a character in a movie, but I can’t remember the name of the movie.

Waking, I think of the movie Day Night Day Night, which I watched two nights ago. It had sat for a long time near the top of our Netflix queue. I had been resisting watching it because it’s about a young woman who has volunteered to blow herself up for the sake of an unnamed cause. But the movie was terrific. I liked the girl, pretty and polite. I liked her fellow terrorists, systematic and kind. It was all so matter of fact and real. By the end I didn’t know whether I wanted her mission to succeed or fail because she wanted it so badly. A lot of the action, such as it is in this psychological thriller, takes place in bathrooms.

Against the backdrop of the larger terror of the world and even our own lives (everybody is going to die, the girl says to herself, naming all the ways that could be worse than the one she has chosen), life goes on one bit at a time. And grace, humor, beauty wind through even the worst moments.

I read two blog posts this morning about cloth in the Congo that we all hear about, the eastern Congo of the horrors. They made me a little sad because in neither case does the western writer allow herself to fully participate in the beauty and joy that the cloth represents in that terrible situation.

One writer watches a seamstress sew clothes for her fellow refugees and suddenly wishes for a dress for herself, to wear to a wedding after she gets back home. But she sees the seamstress is busy with a stack of orders and she doesn’t make the request.

The other writer is back home. She has bought cloth in Congo and is wondering what to do with it. She hesitates to cut into it. It reminds her of people she has met, especially a tailor in a refugee camp, stitching colorful cloth on a battered old machine. She thinks of how much she has and how little the refugees have. She already has another dress in the works. She will make that one. Perhaps one new dress is enough. She is not ready to cut into the cloth.

I know what it is to observe the pain of the world and think we, the privileged who do not suffer, must carry our share of that pain. We can’t allow ourselves to embrace happiness and beauty so long as someone else is suffering. Similarly, we can’t enjoy the beauty of the natural world without the gnawing awareness of how humanity is destroying it.

I’m not sure how I make the connection among all these things. The message I get is that I can’t fully participate in someone else’s suffering. We seldom have the full cinematic treatment of what that involves moment-by-moment, as we are given in Day Night Day Night, and when we do it turns out to be far more complex than we can imagine. Being present with it is one thing. Taking it on is something else.

What I can take on is the affirmation, the beauty, and the joy that represent hope and healing. That is what Congo cloth is about for me. That is the solidarity of the cloth, the Sisterhood of the Cloth. I intend to keep cutting into that stack of cloth that is piling up in my closet.
Gathering under the banner

Friday, August 31, 2012

A bad tech week

dead Kindle, photographed by live iPad
I hate knowing just enough about technology to build a lot of my life around it but never master it. I have come to expect that technology will never work when you need it.

Last Sunday I gave a multimedia presentation in church on my Congo trips. Anticipating difficulties, I made my tech needs known in advance so the church techies could help me be prepared. On their advice I got a VGA adapter. This required a special trip to the Mac store and $31.
VGA adapter. Isn't it cute?
Ten minutes before the presentation the projector seemed to be collaborating with my Mac. But I had to disconnect the computer to move it to a different place and then it didn’t work. After many trials and errors and shutdowns and restarts, another techie came over and helped. It involved something on the display menu, who knew. And then the sound connection didn’t work, apparently because of a dented plug. My presentation started 15 minutes late, unamplified. People were patient and thanked me afterward but I found the whole thing exhausting.

This all lived up (down) to my expectations. I am convinced technology is out to defeat us.

Last spring before my first trip to Congo, Nina, my fellow traveler, suggested that I might interview some people connected with the centennial story project, which I’d been editing. She said she’d shoot the video and edit it into a short piece to use in connection with the book release. Nina is a great photographer so I agreed. I even got some support for our trip based on this venture.

Nina passed the raw video on to me on a memory card in a digital recorder, which she loaned to me for the second trip. I needed to look at it to suggest edits. However, I never used the digital recorder. I felt defeated just looking through the manual. Consequently, I never tried to look at the video until recently, when Nina herself withdrew the card, stuck it into my computer, and transferred the file.

The file was not readable or viewable by my Mac.

After some internet research I concluded that she needed to go through another step to make it viewable. We got together again to do this. (We do not live close to each other.) It didn’t work. In the process my Mac swallowed Nina’s DVD and refused to reveal it, though it did cough it up with a restart. Later when my husband tried both the DVD and a memory stick file on his PC they didn’t work there, either. As I write, the video is still a prisoner of Nina’s computer. It may never escape.

At the end of that day I was carrying my supper into the living room to watch a bit of consolation TV while I ate, alone. Vic was out. As I was sitting down my water glass slipped out of my hand and bounced off the coffee table. Miraculously, it didn’t break. That was because it came down on my Kindle rather than directly on the glass tabletop. It knocked the Kindle screen into a funny pattern. Water splashed onto one of the wireless headsets we use to watch TV and DVDs because we are going deaf. I drained and dried it the best I could but got nothing but static.

The Kindle is gone for good but a few hours later the headset recovered. Phew.

I expected my techie, money-conscious husband to be upset with my klutziness but he was philosophical when I reported all this. I had already replaced the Kindle with another piece of more complicated technology, the iPad. We were hoping to use the Kindle/iPad combination to read the same e-books but we seldom read the same books anyhow. I told him I’d looked into replacing the headphone, which would have cost $57. “That’s not so bad,” he said.

That same day I got a nice email from the pastor thanking me for a really good Congo presentation and apologizing for the tech problems.

While technology always fails, sometimes people come through.